Monday, June 28, 2010

Travel Light

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lunar Eclipse

Well apparently nobody I know gives a fuss about astronomy, since the first lunar eclipse this year has just lapsed in the sky above us. There is another total eclipse coming up on Dec 21, however it will only be visible in the northern hemisphere.

Peak Eclipse, 11:39pm, 2010A.D.
Taken with D200@ISO100, AIS300/4.5ED@F16 with 2x converter as well as heavy cropping

The stars that otherwise would not be visible at full moon.
Taken with D200@ISO800, Sigma 10-20EX@F4

I have some wonderful philosophical things to say but my time is running out.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Triangle --- The Shining and Momento had a wicked baby

Triangle, 2009, First Look Studios, Australia, 99min

For obvious reasons, I am not fond of Australian films. My prejudice is further reinforced by the latest major and majorly disappointing production from across the ditch, the namesake Australia. Yes, the Australia with Nicole Kidman in it, she has transformed into the female equivalent of Nicholas Cage lately, maybe I will write a separate bashing post one day.

Nevertheless, Triangle is to sway my opinion in a good way. Created in a highly contemporary setting: a white singlet-wearing, freckled single mom and her autistic son goes on a trip that turns horribly wrong. Well, the first 10 minutes of the film is the boring part and I feel sorry for those who turned away before the ship appeared, for what happens in the remaining time is mind-blowing.

The film makes many shameless allusions to The Shining, but the actual plot is surprisingly ingenious and fresh. Slow-learning people would probably have to watch it again to grasp what is going on, and a third time to understand everything.

Certainly the main idea of the film is is not entirely new, even South Park have done it. Assuming that you have seen Momento, you would appreciate the value of intricate editing, which makes the audience feel int the same way the characters would do. Triangle is near perfect on this aspect so while the main character Jess does not really develop over time, you get to know her better and better by the minute.

Finally the heavy symbolism reminds me of Silent Hill. Instead of a foggy isolated town, Triangle takes place on a cruise ship traveling in bright daylight. However the interiors of the vessel had the same claustrophobic and eerie feeling that is in some way more consistent to the video game experience.The amount of blood and gore is also just right, not too little or too much.

Verdict: A really good horror movie that blends all elements to the right proportions. Four stars out of Five.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Man-up Meals FTW

Man-up cooking to cuisine is like German pornography to adult entertainment. Tasting good is not enough; the food has to appear somewhat revolting (think mushy peas), or at least visually unpolished to be considered manly. Another added-on advantage is that anybody sees it won't steal it due to the engrossing look.

Examples are abound

Awesome pub food, did I just mention mushy peas?

A somewhat less toxic variety with baked beans

One, two, three, four.....thirteen kranskies, on rice with miso soup, Freud would be impressed.

Something dyschezic this way comes.....

Solution: Add plenty of lubrication mayonnaise!

Rule #1: Deep fry everything and top up with curry or gravy

Another murder by the brown sauce

Man-up breakfast, made commercially

School Lunch in Japan, junior version

Traditional tea dish in the JMSDF, some officers are known to spend their entire allowance for this treat. BTW, Kimlan Soy Paste is another hidden gem, try it!

Attempt to make lemon chicken today, it tastes better than it looks, period.
Finally, a hearty lunch made to my definition, thank you darling. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Slade's Ribbons

According to what was told the movie Scent of a Woman, Lt.Col. Frank Slade played by Al Pacino served in Vietnam, have been on Lyndon Johnson's staff and almost got promoted a general. What does his payslip ribbons and badges say about his service?

Should I shoot you or adopt you?

Left side contain four unit awards:
Presidential Unit Citation: Awarded for exceptional in major operations, relatively common
Valorous Unit Award: The lesser version of the previous.
Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation: Slade could have served as one of the early US military advisers, however considering his age it is more likely to have come from a later date.
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm: Frequently issued to foreign combatants by RoVN so nothing special here, nearly everyone has got it.

Right side have both skill badges and individual decoration racks, starting from the top then top-left:

Combat Infantryman Badge: Basic Group I skill badge, issued to every trooper with front line service

Basic Parachutist Badge: a.k.a. Snow Cone, awarded following at least one combat parachute jump. Slade does not appear to have served in the airborne divisions, so it is most likely that he picked this up while in Fort Benning.

Distinguished Service Cross: Highest army decoration just second to MoH. Awarded in excess of 1000 for action in Vietnam, out of those about 400 are posthumous.
Silver Star: Third-placed US service medal, Slade must have done something right...twice. John McCain also has one.

Bronze Star: Further down the hierarchy. Slade's however, bear both Valor device and oak leaves, which translate into multiple decorations for some exceptional deeds.
Purple Heart: i.e. would medal. Probably one of the most abundant medals out there because the DoD minted 500,000 for the invasion of Japan which never happened, and they still have not used up that old supply. Officers carry spares into battle and use them to plug broken femoral arteries, well, jokes.

Meritorious Service Medal: Awarded for exceptional non-combat duty.
Air Medal: Awarded for frequent fliers in warzone, no, you don't have to pilot the aircraft yourself.  
Joint Service Commendation: Lesser version of the Bronze Star.

Army Achievement Medal: Probably with oak leaves, can't see very clear. I need bluray :(
National Defense Service Medal: Blanket campaign medal for the Nam, as well as Korea, Afganistan and Iraq.
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal: Supplementary campaign medal, probably for service elsewhere in Indo-China.

Vietnam Service Medal: Mostly covered however quite identifiable, created by Lyndon Johnson for service in the Vietnam theater.
Army Service Ribbon: For every member of the armed serviced in 1981 and thereafter. One of the uglier ribbons out there.
Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm: This is not the unit award and bears more weight.
Vietnam Campaign Medal: Universally awarded. The bar device read "1960", the year of the start of conflict. It is intended to issue a second bar when the North is defeated, however it never came.

Overall, we can see a typical route of ascension for a model soldier from the rice paddies to the war room. His personality destined him to the eventual downfall, however he could not have scored all that glory without it.

Let's watch him tango with an adorable Gabrielle Anwar again:


I have mentioned before that sometimes luck is very important in an actor/actresses' success. Nicholas Cage is a prime example of someone repeatedly receiving flops. Anne Hathaway had her share of mistakes when she turned down the leading role of Christine in the Phantom movie due to her commitment to make Princess Dairies 2.

Al Pacino's luck is on par with Bruce Willis, they both had a down period however recovered quickly with one or two major hits. To prove the point that nobody is immune to occasional hiccups:

A young Sean Connery here, you probably wouldn't have guessed....

To make up for the shock, let's end the post with some pretty females with weapons
M4 with too many bling blings, used by a 5"2' shooter

She really knows how to aim

The End is based on a real person, you will never know...

Only hippies and hypocrites don't love the IDF

Monday, June 21, 2010

Music of Evangelion 2.22

The producers were probably lazy on the music front. While they did put in some original scores, the four songs featured are not exactly new.

Theme Song: Utada Hikaru - Beautiful World (PLANITb acoustica mix)
A straight remix from the last release, they couldn't have got much easier than that. It is slightly better than the first version but that is it.

Shinji vs. Bardiel: 森山良子/Moriyama Ryoko - 今日の日はさような/Kyou no Hi wa Sayonara
A 60s pop hit that is better known as a graduation song or the Japanese equivalent of Auld Lang Syne. The juxaposition of a mellow tune with gory visuals is a good idea, however it did not work because there is not enough tension to build prior to that scene.

Shinji vs. Zeruel: 赤い鳥/Akaitori - 翼をください/Wings to Fly
The same idea, better executed. My rant is only because I don't like this song, it has been used in so many different productions that it had become stale and lame. Did I mention that even Susan Boyle did a cover?

Mary vs. Unnamed Third Angel: 水前寺清子/Suizenji Kyoko - 三百六十五歩のマーチ/March of 365 Steps

This is Mari's song as she drives Unit-05 forward; unfortunately it never made to the soundtracks due to copyright disputes. It belongs to the same league of j-pop standard of the previous two, however with some enka flair. My personal favorite, it effectively presents Mary's character in less than a minute.
しあわせは 歩いてこない
Happiness does not fall from the sky
だから歩いて ゆくんだね
Therefore we must walk towards it
一日一歩 三日で三歩
One step every day, three steps in three days
三歩進んで 二歩さがる
Three steps ahead, two steps back
人生は ワン・ツー・パンチ
Life goes like one-two punch
汗かき べそかき 歩こうよ
carry on with your sweat and tears
あなたのつけた 足あとにゃ
By the footprints you left behind
きれいな花が 咲くでしょう
Pretty flowers will bloom
腕を振って 足をあげて
Shake your wrist, raise your feet
ワン・ツー ワン・ツー
One-two, one-two
休まないで 歩け ソレ
Without a break, FOWARD!

Picture Heavy Review: Rebuild of Evangelion 2

As per usual, no spoilers, video below use materials from the first title and trailer material, one of the best edited fan AMV I have ever seen. 

ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 破/Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, 2009, Studio Khara, KlockWorx and Gainax, Japan, 112min

When we first Rebuild movie was released in 2007, it had largely aesthetic differences compared to the original TV series it was based on, only some minor details of the plot have been altered. Hence the initial reaction to number two was lukewarm at best for something in anticipation of something that equals flogging a dead horse. It turns out that we are in for a surprise, in a good way.

The second set of the tetralogy continues Jo-ha-kyū idea well. The previous title was a mere prelude; this is the most important middle piece. The movies opens with some scenes in hilarious Engrish, a new enemy and the introduction of a new character.

Wild calico has fresh blood on her face all the time

Yup, the much hyped new girl Mary debut quite early on and would appear a few more times. Her character is well written, attractive and life-like, save for the unsolved mysteries of her true motives. Without spoiling anyone, the most to be said is that she does not contribute to the plot line in a major way, however she is earmarked to take a more important role in the next title. The story is to go in a very different path while reusing a lot of the old elements. Some classic scenes appear again, but with a different outcome.

Familiar elevator huh?
Just like the old times...

The plot aside, there is also some drastic changes to the personalities of many characters. Unlike the TV version where everyone appears psychologically disturbed, they are all of sound mind. Most characters kept their respective back-story and weaknesses, however their new portrayal is definitely more positive and likable.

Previously unthinkable complexion
Even the father and son are made more loving

Animation is still top notch, with plenty of high quality CGI while the characteristic cine-film look is preserved, this is especially difficult given a lot of the original cellulose records were lost and some takes needed to be redrawn entirely. The music is deserves some detailed discussion, and there will be a separate post for it.

Homage to the Unit 05-13 airdrop scene
This angel is original and appeared in the trailers, postmodern-ish designed

Some may criticise the pacing, it starts off pretty action-heavy and fast, then it slows down for about 40 minutes, only to get really fast-faced again towards the end. Compared to the first movie which covers roughly episode 1 to 7, the sequel has to tell most if not all the story between episode 8-19 as well as original content, parts of the old story had to be omitted, which more or less dilutes the character progression, hence it is mandatory to take your previous experience of Evangelion to make the most of the on-screen development. Not the best solution but understandable given the time constraints. My major complaint goes to the excessive level of fan service. Gainax is historically unapologetic with nudity, but to have fan service in such a major production seems, pretty childish at least.

The strategically placed can is Yebisu, really good beer in case you have not had it already.

I also feel that religious imagery has been overused, given the producer's own admission that the use of Judeo-Christian symbolism is mostly because it "looks good". Well a pinch of salt is tasty, a tablespoon of it would be revolting.
The halo straight out of 16th century painting.
Now there are four of them, I can doodle better than this.

Verdict: A well directed sequel that did not end up as a cheap remake, nevertheless it will only appeal to the existing fan base. If you are new to the franchise, I would recommend you to at least read the official manga before digging in.


A short list of movies that I have managed to catch up with:

Gran Torino: As good as Hollywood fantasies will ever get.
12 Angry Men (1957): Brilliant, just brilliant, the sort of character development that modern films lack so much of. 
Night at the Museum 2: Amy Adams = Hot, everybody else = meh
The Boat that Rocked: LOL

Friday, June 18, 2010

Matthew 7:13-14 with dessert

"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Yeah, quite right, this is the right kind of encouragement that I want and need to hear.

Apparently, there is a divine protector for every trade and profession. Raphael, the patron of medicine, has been officially assigned to the role to foster the other end of the healing business by the Catholic Church in the 1950s.

Archangel welding the double helix = Priceless

Thank you Vatican, you have made my day, please do keep up your awesome collaboration with science.

Tremendously brief food review: Kapiti Chocolate Dipped Vanilla Sticks

 Photo credit:

I have made verbal recommendations to many before this and I feel the need to write it down.

What is exceptional is the generous chocolate coating on the outside. Most large ice cream makers opt to use dodgy substitutes for cocca and butter, on the assumptions that average taste buds will be frozen numb and fail. Well, they are very mistaken, and this is proof of real chocolate making a difference.

The ice cream inside is also top quality vanilla crème with authentic Madagascar vanilla, however it would not have worked so wonderfully without the shell. This delight comes in two versions: 105ml single pack (Street price $3) and 6x60ml box set (usually goes for $8+, however Pak n'Save in Sylvia Park currently has deal at $6.9). I highly recommend the latter not only for the better value, but also the fact that you get a higher chocolate-to-icecream ratio thanks to Euclid, making it a more memorable experience.

This is the smaller 60ml serving; the 105ml variety is more like a chocolate fish. 

Thanks for reading, I plan to have at least one everyday before they cut back on the coating, or lest my arteries turn to porridge. Did you know that atheromas start to develop in everybody's arteries by the age of 10? Shocking.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Farewell 349

Today I went for my first exams this semester, which happens to be of BIOSCI349. The emotions just before the exam range from calculated confidence to total panic, which was very interesting to observe.Also, nobody wanted it when I offered my mint copy of Biochemistry 6th Ed by Berg et al for grabs, c'mon, I thought you are the ones who are into science.

The exam went fine, question one was a hard call between two questions of similar difficulty, and I ended up switching topic after making a start on the other. Special thanks to Obsidi of Dissecting Minutes, question four became a breeze after reading the elegantly laconic summary of A.lumbricoides.

I also remember the comment "The highest you will get is a B+" from the start of the semester when I casually declared myself a B student. Well, turns out that was a pretty accurate prediction.

The result for Test 2 MCQs are not out yet, however I am confident it will be 15/20 at least, this compounded with my A-ish lab marks and otherwise lackluster exam performance at the exam, would land me consistently in a high B or B+.

People say the most you will get is what you aimed for, did I aim for a B? Well, hard to say, but judging from the negligible time spent studying prior to this morning, I am utterly indifferent to this course, farewell 349, you will not be missed. Maybe I ought to join Andre's daily countdown to the end of education for many of us.


And the other day, I picked this up during a spontaneous visit to the off-license in Howick over the weekend. The main reason to get it: It is darned cheap, priced so low that you probably won't believe me if I put the figure here. Anyway, a 750ml bottle goes for less than half the price of a 700ml Baileys.

The name is O'Mara's Irish Country Cream w/ added caramel. The bottle is not too informative, other than saying that it is made in Abbeyleix, County Laois. I looked up on the internet and it turns out to be something made exclusively for export, no wonder why I have never seen this brand in Eire.The internet also told me that this combination has a wine base, which is not mentioned anywhere on the labeling, strange.

 This is what it looks like, pale straw colour from an opaque bottle.

Despite the over-friendly price tag, it is actually very tasty, probably the smoothest cream liqueur I have ever had, no sting at all. It is quite rich too, goes down like a thick shake with the punch. The added caramel is subtle, just right to be tasted, with a coffee-like aftertaste.

It works pretty well neat at room temperature right now in winter. You may get it on the rocks however ice tends to mask most of the sweetness, and it will dilute the Milch too.

Verdict: Surprisingly good for the price, excellent after-dinner drink and a quick, bottled fix for your sweet tooth. The alcohol content is low enough (13%) for this drink to be considered wine for legal purposes, so future tax hikes on spirits are less likely to have any effect. (FYI, filled bread must have at least two slices of bread to be legally considered a sandwich, at least in Boston)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

State of Photography

This post is dedicated to the living memory of a friend among the 87,150 lives lost in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and their surviving families.

Blessed be our compassionate lord for ever,
we bring you grief in loss of many
and ask for courage to bear it.
We bring you thanks for all you give us in those we love
and we bring you prayers for peace of heart
in the knowledge of your mercy and love


The post started on the same day when my magnifier eyepiece broke off.  It was attached on a fragile makeshift mounting, that is, DK-22 with cut threads and super-glue reinforcement. I have been expecting this for some time; a spare DK-22 was on standby for more than a year. Well, time to do the assembly all over again, this time with more care so it might last a bit longer.

Before you ask me whether I own a serious digital camera, yes I do. It is a staple Nikon D200 bought second-hand from a certain professional store in Parnell, many of you will probably know which one it is.. To put things lightly, I have been ripped off for the purchase. The built-in flash stopped working once their warranty period ran out, I went back and was refused any remedy. Out of options, I sent it to TA Macalister, where they slapped me with a substantial bill and, adding insult to injury, told me that the repair cost more because someone had previously botched the innards of the camera. Needless to say, I have never been back to the same store and have recommended against them to everybody I know. After all, it looks like I am stuck with this poor little thing for a while.

The AFS 18-200VR lens had a more pleasant background: A piece of retired ex-journo equipment from my friend Rob, chief editor of Pacific Wings. He might have taken the lens to miles of skies above the ground, and I have certainly taken her across the oceans to many corners of the world. She is the one that you will definitely see me with in the foreseeable future.

A couple of pics taken with the duo:

Shanghai Dawn, late'08
Posing in front of Federal Hall,early'09

At the same time, I have been trying to reduce my personal belongings into one room. So I took the opportunity to go over what is the remainder of my once glorious camera collection:

I used to own a full platoon of Nikons, including a very nice black paint F with plain prism, F2AS with motor, F4/F4E etc. Right now I am down to 2 film SLRs. This is the last F3, it is the prototype AF body complete with motor and high-point finder. I also have some expensive accessories not included in the photo: DW-4, AS-17, SB-15, MF-6B. Anyway, it is too unwieldy to use, so it sits on a display shelf most of the time, occasionally taken for use as a focusing stage for macros. Lens: AI-mod Nikkor-H.C 50/2 with a interesting serial number, bought from a pianist in Kohi.

The black FA, lens is AIS 24/2 with custom Tiffen hood. The camera was hand-built from the three dead FA bodies by the late friend of mine. He is a highly disciplined technician, keeping track of everything and have me informed with lots of pictures.

He perished in his hometown which was obliterated to the ground: this studio he worked in is still buried under 15 meters of debris, his body never recovered.

R.I.P. pal, I shall safeguard your work for as long as I am alive.


The AIS 300/4.5 ED pictured above is the longest lens I currently have. It might be old, but not losing to any modern offering: razor-sharp and feather-light (relatively speaking). I bought it without the tripod collar, which was later added on a trip to England. Greys of Westminster is probably the best-stocked Nikon store outside Japan, a must see place if you happen to be in London.

Corsair FG-1D flyover, Wanaka, 2005
My Emo Goth Sweetheart, Auckland, 2006

When I started in photography, dad gave me his old Minolta X-700. Unfortunately it was ruined in an accident and later cannibalised for parts.

I have since replaced it with this mint example as a spiritual successor. Thanks Dad. The lens is a "yellow paint" MC Rokkor-X 50/2, with a clamp-on mid-tele hood.

 Location unknown, probably the Botanic Gardens, Early'07

Owairoa School Gala, Howick, 2005


Leica IIf, The only rangefinder I still have. The lens is 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar w/finder. Also present is Canon 50/1.5, one of the better Sonnar-copies, plus an early cradle type Leitz 50mm sports finder, which according to the reference books, had never been produced commercially.

I used to have M cameras too, one M6TTL and a couple of M2s, however those are too bulky and business-like. Knob-wind Barnack models are inherently less accurate beings, and that is the reason users will have to concentrate on what is really-important: The decisive moment and the form of frame.
(Except for IIIg, M3's retarded cousin)

Central, Hong Kong, 2006

Madonna and Child, Macau, 2006

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been a Leicaphile. The problem was, I became one at the wrong time when prices were high and my income was low. Notwithstanding that, the people I met back then were still great friends that I will never give up. Once upon a time, photography was my life-blood, however my interests have waned somewhat over time, especially after I left school and lost convenient access to a wet darkroom. Yet I am determined to keep the hobby going, faugh a ballagh!